The Olympics just ended, the American presidential election campaigns are in full swing, and academic anthropologists are returning to the classroom after summer travel and research. But today let’s focus on how practicing anthropologists are raising the profile of our discipline in the business and corporate world.
Maia Green (U. of Manchester) reviews The Silo Effect: Why Every Organisation Needs to Disrupt Itself to Survive by Gillian Tett (Financial Times). The book, among other things, explains how the outside observer perspective of anthropologists is a critical tool for corporate change.
Meanwhile, business and marketing consultants are realizing—and writing about—how an ethnographic approach to social media, defined as looking at the human side of social media interaction, balances counting clicks, retweets, shares, and mentions.
- Three non-anthropologists tell us “To Get More Out of Social Media, Think Like an Anthropologist” in the Harvard Business Review.
- Christopher S. Penn, VP of Marketing Technology for Shift Communications calls this “digital ethnography.” He strives to find the proper context for social media messaging, rather than just throwing out posts and tweets and hoping they are read or shared.
- In an interview, Richard Sheridan, co-founder of Menlo Innovations, a technology software company known for creating “joy at work” talks about hiring anthropologists. In his words, they do “High Tech Anthropology” (e.g., ethnography) to help design software and manuals that work for real people, instead of forcing users to learn how to make the software work.
Anthropologist and business consultant Andi Simon’s new book, On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights, gets a review in Small Business Trends. She is reminding business leaders that business culture affects they way they do or don’t succeed.
How do we get from ethnography in the Amazon or social networks in Bahrain to corporate innovation? Anthropologist Astrid Countee (The Inquisitive Anthropologist Blog) untangles this thread in a guest blog post for The Geek Anthropologist, Anthropology: Innovation by Another Name.
Three examples of anthropologists contributing to product development and marketing appear in August news headlines:
- Bloomberg News profiles Tanya Rodriguez, staff anthropologist at Hormel Foods.
- An airline industry magazine describes how ethnographic approaches to customer satisfaction are more insightful than customer surveys or self-reporting by product testers.
- Yahoo Tech describes why Nissan hired an anthropologist as part of the team developing autonomous driving vehicles.
From within the discipline,
- a June 2016 article in Ethnography Matters discusses how ethnography is and will be part of autonomous system design
- context is also key in early observations on Pekemon GO by anthropology Ph.D. candidate Evan P. Conway (U. of California, Irvine)
- there are risks as well as rewards to using personal networks in ethnographic research, according to a presentation by Professor Jo-Anne Bichard (Royal College of Art, London) posted by the organizers on Vimeo. (Are your public presentations being videotaped and posted publicly?)
Finally, the August 2016 issue of Cultural Anthropology (Issue 31.3) offers an interesting academic counterpoint to the business applications of ethnography and anthropology described above. Find an edited collection of papers on “refusal” looks at individual and collective behavior that resists cultural expectations or even legal requirements. There is an article on governmental disaster preparedness that could apply to business risk-management, a study of the socioeconomic impact of Kenya’s Silicon Savannah, and a look at how “professional organizers” in the U.S. succeed when clients see objects in a new cultural context.
Postscript: regarding EPIC 2016, the Minnesota Business Magazine has alerted their readers that the anthropologists are coming! (nod to Gary Larson)
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